© Noel Harrower 2018
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                         GREENSPIRITS AT WORK IN NOTTINGHAM In the 1990’s, Barbara Selwood, my wife Jenny and I were all involved in running a Greenspirit group in Nottingham. It did not survive into the 21st Century, but that’s  the character of organic things.  They are born, grow and then wither, making room for others. I hear there are now stirrings about a new Greenspirit group being created there. May the sun shine on them!  Jenny and I are now living in Devon and perhaps, at this distance, we can look back on the events that took place in their true perspective. The spirit first moved me at Lindisfarne, on a Celtic Pilgrimage, led by James Stewart and Eileen Conn. In 1997, I attended a Greenspirit National Weekend, when one of the themes was looking forward to the new millennium. We were encouraged to think of the millennium as a God given opportunity for change - a time when people all over the globe might ask themselves “What sort of a world are we building for our children and grandchildren? Can we shape a better future?” Shortly afterwards, a Radio Nottingham manager challenged his ecumenical Advisory Group, on which I represented the United Reformed Church, with the question “How are the Nottingham churches going to celebrate the new millennium?” We stammered our replies. Clearly no forward planning was on the cards. “You’d better hurry up,” he told us, “or the firework manufacturers will take the whole thing over!” I was thinking about this, some days later, when the telephone rang. It was a call from  Canon Eddie Neale, then Chairman of the Nottingham Council of Churches. Would I like to be their Millennium Co-ordinator?  I wasn’t even a member of the Council of Churches, but it sounded a wonderful opportunity, so I said “Yes” before I changed my mind. Eddie was a bit taken aback! So I started planning. When I presented my proposal to the Council, they did not even discuss it. They swallowed it whole. “Excellent,” they said. “Now, you can make it happen!” My proposal was that there should be a series of neighbourhood community festivals across the city, with the theme “Our District - Past, Present and Future.” The dream was that our six Churches Together groups would plan and run these with local organizations. Perhaps church halls might be opened up for exhibitions. In one room, there might be a local history presentation telling the story of the past. In another there could be displays by local community groups about their work and an opportunity to invite the public to  volunteer to help them and also say what they liked about the area, and what they saw as the real problems. A follow-up event would be a brainstorming of ideas about the neighbourhood tomorrow, and steps towards building the area we would like to see. Having got the approval of the Council of Churches, I formed a working party and we presented the ideas to the Millennium Commission. They swallowed it whole too, and gave us £36,000 in quarterly installments. Then I ran into the big problem - persuading the churches. Each one was fiercely independent and self-absorbed. No one wanted to start to think about anything two years into the future. “We’ll consider it after Christmas” … then “after Easter”…then in “the Autumn,” they told me. Most had no real ideas at all other than a party on New Year’s Eve. One suggested floodlighting the church, another organizing a fund for restoring the roof; my own church decided to organize a flower festival in the spring. The only bit of my idea that attracted any of them was looking backwards - to the past. No one outside my working party was really interested in working with neighbourhood groups and when it came to facing the future, frankly they were afraid. I had thought that the millennium money would draw them, but it didn’t - not unless it could be spent on new church bells or buying bibles to give away. So, I was left with a headache – how could I deliver what we were committed to? I approached the City Council. What were they planning? They hadn’t thought about it yet either, but they were going to convene an officers’ meeting to discuss it. I was invited to join them. The first thing I was told was “Yes, we’re very happy to work alongside the churches, provided that all the other faiths are also involved. Have you consulted them?” I had’nt, but I said I’d been to meetings of the Inter Faith Council, and was very open to working with them. I went to their next meeting with my proposals, and found that after several years of working together, they were having to consider disbanding. No one wanted to take over the vacant roles of Secretary or Treasurer. But my working group held the first installment of money, and something had to happen quickly, so we got to work ourselves, co-operating with one body here and another there. The Millennium Year in Nottingham was either a modest success or a dismal failure, according to one’s perspective. At noon, on New Year’s Day, four big church processions marched through the town from north, south. east and west to be greeted by a fanfare of trumpets. There was a large open-air service in the Market Square, followed by a funfair. During the year, a book was published about Nottingham’s Christian Heritage. It was complemented by a work pack for schools and a touring exhibition. There were large open air services at Easter, on May Day and at Pentecost, a multi cultural music event in the Market Square and several neighbourhood carnivals organized by different community groups, part funded by the Millennium grant. At one of these there was an opportunity for the public to share thoughts on future developments. But all was not lost - some roots began to germinate in that year. The Nottingham Inter Faith Council was revitalized, and the City Council became interested in working alongside them. In the years that followed, the relationship matured. On the eve of the Iraq War a Peace Walk was held from the Islamic Centre to St. Peter’s church, with the Lord Mayor, the Anglican Bishop and leaders of many churches and mosques participating. There were about a hundred church members and a hundred Muslims walking quietly together and participating in gatherings at both the mosque and the church. Later, an Environmental Project was organised called “Operation Noah” which involved Christians, Muslims and Jewish children re-enacting the story of the flood in modern ecological terms. The Council helped fund it and the Lord Mayor presented prizes. The Council started funding a part-time paid Coordinator to assist interfaith work. He helped to organize a Multi Faith Touring Exhibition, which visited schools and libraries, and a pack was produced about different faiths in Nottingham. Last April, the new Lord Mayor approached the Inter Faith Council and asked us to help him by organizing a multi-faith civic chaplaincy. It was a challenge, but we did it. The Lord Mayor was blessed in the main city church by representative leaders of the Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, Jews and the Brahma Kumaris. Last September there was a multi faith gathering in the Catholic Cathedral Hall, with an address by the Catholic Bishop, and the theme of the Inter Faith AGM was “Peace-building.” In November, there was an open debate on health and ethics hosted by an Islamic School, with contributions from scientists from varied backgrounds. In March, the Lord Mayor hosted an exchange of ideas between forty spiritual elders and forty young people, all nominated by different faith groups.  Ten trees have been planted in a City Centre Park, partly funded by money left over from the Greenspirit group. The plaque beside them names the faiths and adds the words “Growing Together in Faith.” The park is on the fringes of St. Ann’s, an area which has seen much tragedy, with shootings and gun crime hitting the national headlines, but hopeful things are happening too. The new Chairman of the Inter Faith Council, who took over from me last September, helped to organize a symbolic gathering called “Holding Hands in St. Ann’s”, which brought the neighbourhood together in a new way. Looking back, I can see that the hopes for the new millennium are beginning to take root in Nottingham in quite different ways from those I originally expected. Surely, that’s appropriate in any organic process. The green shoots are growing.                                      ------------------------------------------------
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